Stuart Neville: From Armagh to LA

From ThugLit to Hollywood in two not so easy books, Gerard Brennan talks to the Armagh author

Stuart Neville’s writing career sprang from the publication of a short story in an online magazine. The piece in question, ‘The Last Dance’, was posted on in February 2008. All Neville expected in return was a T-shirt. Soon after it was published, however, he received an email from a man by the name of Nat Sobel, a renowned New York literary agent. Sobel wanted to see a novel.

Neville’s debut novel, The Twelve (The Ghosts of Belfast in America) was released in July 2009 and immediately garnered critical acclaim. It was reviewed extensively in the national newspapers and given the thumbs up by giants in the industry such as John Connolly, Jeff Abbot and Ken Bruen.

However, the greatest compliment for Neville came from his favourite writer, James Ellroy, the Demon Dog of American literature: 'The best first novel I've read in years. It crackles. It grips you by the throat. It's a flat-out terror trip. This is some guy to watch out for in a dark alley.'

Neville got to meet the mighty Ellroy and interview him live on stage at the Waterfront Hall in 2010, an event organised by David Torrans of No Alibis Bookstore in Belfast.

'He disproved that old chestnut about never meeting your heroes,' Neville said. 'I met him briefly in Denver, Colorado, a few weeks beforehand, which kind of broke the ice before interviewing him in Belfast. I spent a good part of the day with him, and found him to be a very warm and friendly man. But he also has a laser-like intelligence and intensity, which can be intimidating. The whole experience was a thrill, one of the true highlights of my life.'

In America The Ghosts of Belfast seemed unstoppable, with starred reviews in Publishers Weekly, Kirkus Reviews and Library Journal, amongst other resteemed publications.

It won the coveted Los Angeles Times Book Prize for mysteries and thrillers in 2009 and nominations for other prestigious awards in crime fiction continue to roll in, most recently the Anthony, Barry and Macavity awards.

The Twelve was literary gold. The question now was, could Neville do it again?

It's too early to say. Collusion was launched on July 29 2010 at No Alibis Bookstore, but the early signs are good. Val McDermid described it as 'Terrifyingly authentic, shiveringly good.'

The good reviews were a relief for the Armagh writer. 'I felt a huge amount of pressure when I was writing it. The Twelve was written so quickly, just ten weeks for the first draft, that Collusion felt like pulling teeth in comparison.

'By the time I was done, and all the revisions and edits were wrapped up, I wasn't really sure how I felt about the book. But the reaction so far has been encouraging, so fingers crossed that it continues to go over well.'

This latest novel is a sequel to The Twelve, though it is mostly told through the point of view of two new characters. The plot is born of the chaos set in motion by Gerry Fegan, the protagonist from Neville’s first offering. Collusion takes the reader on a lighting-fast, heartbreaking thrill ride led by Detective Inspector Jack Lennon, a deeply flawed hero who has the potential to carry a series of Belfast-set thrillers to challenge Brian McGilloway's Derry-based Inspector Devlin series.

And it looks as if Neville's characters might not be confined to the world of paper and ink. Neville appeared on CBS' The Late Late Show with Craig Ferguson in April 2010 and connected not just with the audience but with Ferguson.

'We have similar backgrounds, I think,' explains Neville. 'Being from Glasgow, he's well aware of the sectarian backdrop to The Twelve, so I think it resonated with him on a more personal level than it might have done with somebody born and raised in Los Angeles.

'He optioned the movie rights out of his own pocket, and he's very passionate about getting it made. But as with any movie, there's a mountain to climb before a single camera rolls. We'll have to wait and see what happens.'

Maybe. But with the winning streak Neville has behind him, the smart money would be on seeing his Belfast in the cinema before too long.

Stuart Neville's The Twelve and Collusion can be purchased in CultureNorthernIreland's Amazon store